Homecoming for Stark Photographs of Apartheid





JOHANNESBURG — When he was only in his 20s Ernest Cole, a black photographer who stood barely five feet tall, created one of the most harrowing pictorial records of what it was like to be black in apartheid South Africa. He went into exile in 1966, and the next year his work was published in the United States in a book, “House of Bondage,” but his photographs were banned in his homeland where he and his work have remained little known.

In exile Mr. Cole’s life crumbled. For much of the late 1970s and 1980s he was homeless in New York, bereft of even his cameras. “His life had become a shadow,” a friend later said. Mr. Cole died at 49 in 1990, just a week after Nelson Mandela walked free. His sister flew back to South Africa with his ashes on her lap.

Mr. Cole is at last having another kind of homecoming. The largest retrospective of his work ever mounted is now on display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, built in the neo-Classical style almost a century ago in an era when South Africa’s great mining fortunes were being made on the backs of black labor. It is a collection of images that still possesses the power to shock and anger....



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